By Craig Hagerman
Braden Holtby wasn’t simply handed the role as the Washington Capitals starting netminder. No, he had to earn it.
Though he may have had a less than impressive outing against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night, allowing three goals on 12 shots after coming in for relief for Justin Peters in the second period and then being replaced to begin the third, the Lloydminster, Sask. native is still unquestionably Washington’s go to guy between the pipes.
Holtby was coming out of the Western League and would spend parts of his first four seasons playing for the Hershey Bears, Washington’s American League affiliate, before he became a full time NHL goaltender. When he finally got full time duty in the AHL, Holtby posted a record of 25-8-2. In his second professional season he saw the crease 14 times with the big club and put up an impressive 10-2-2 record while registering a 0.934 save percentage and a 1.79 goals against average.
What didn’t help the 6-foot-2, 203-pound puck-stopper though was the fact that coming in the Capitals had already given the starting job to others. With the likes of Tomas Vokoun, Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, and, briefly last season, Jaroslav Halak, Holtby has had to battle for the net during his time with the Caps.
However, it seems as though the emerging star has finally won the battle. Holtby has seen the ice in 18 of the Caps first 23 games and is on pace to see the crease 64 times this season, which would greatly surpass his previous season high of 48 last season.
Besides just getting the workload, Holtby has put up reasonable numbers as well. Going into Saturday night’s game, Holtby held a .916 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average, lower than Canadiens’ Carey Price, Boston’s Tuukka Rask, and New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist. Those numbers dipped following Saturday’s game to .911 and 2.40 respectively, but a bounce-back game could bring them right back up. Arguably, Holtby shouldn’t be blamed for the pucks that made it past him Saturday, as they came on the power play and odd-man rushes.
Holtby was named the fourth goalie for Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics last year and, though it put him in a spot where he would almost certainly not see the ice, it still speaks volumes that he was on Hockey Canada’s radar. Considering future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur, two-time Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford, and Pittsburgh Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury were not given the same consideration.
Holtby is still young and, with just 123 games to his name, is still finding the ropes in the NHL. Barry Trotz seems adamant on riding his number one goaltender and as he matures, if Washington can adapt to a good defensive style of game that Trotz was able to cement in Nashville, Holtby could very well become an important part of the Caps for years to come.